December 22, 2010:Whispers and Rumors
By Lisa Thompson, SPAWN Creek Naturalist
(More from Lisa: http://field-notes.net/wordpress/?p=42)
Whispers. Rumors. The creek is alive with them. "Have you seen any salmon?" "No, but earlier there were three near Leo Cronin, a female and two males." "Where are the fish?" "I missed a jumping jack by one minute at Roy's Pools." We walk with eyes fixed on the milky water, "It's shallower than you think. If they're in there we'll see them."Folks passing by, back from Peter's Dam, "Seen any?" "Nope. You?" Binoculars, polarized lenses, eyes, hearts, aimed the creek.
Shafter Bridge. "Somebody just saw a jack jumping." We hurry. "Did you see one jump?" "No, but we heard that fifteen minutes ago somebody something." "What? I don't think I heard you there at the end." "Some guy had a permit to be down at the creek. Saw a fish fifteen minutes ago." "Oh?" Disappointment. Eager, though, the bridge crowded with people. "That's something." "Fish in the system." "Must have been a water district guy." "Fifteen fish." "What? I heard fifteen minutes."
The fish whisperer drives by. We all turn, quiet. His truck turns the corner, disappears; the rumors and whispers begin again.
Read that a jack jumped at Roy's Pools this morning so I go there next. Tracking down the jumpers, the leapers, the fresh fish come to spawn. Standing near the road we get to talking, a biologist with his camera and his knowledge of water. But talking eyes down, glued to the plunges. "A photographer saw fifteen fish below Inkwells." He sees one leap into the second pool but I miss it. I run, I skip to the bridge. I won't miss the next leap. It's a small jack. My first jumping fish, I hope. It's what I came to see, need to see. And there it is. My heart pounds. He misses. Just misses the opening and hits the metal lip. Back down. Three minutes later he tries again, this time almost making it, his aim better this time but the force of the water doesn't let him slip all the way over the spill. The next nine attempts don't give us much hope. Agony. He flips himself up onto the sloped cobbled area to the north of the spill, as if the waters below propel him in the wrong direction. The biologist says, "I'll watch one more attempt. If he doesn't make it, I leave. I just can't take it. If I leave I can tell myself he made it."
I know I'll stay. I have to see. We wait together. Everybody else has left. Were they heartsick at the thought of failure too, or was it the rain? Then the jack makes a perfect leap just over the lip and hits the water swimming, disappears into the dark water. We yell, high five. "Bravo! Keep swimming, Jack." We introduce ourselves then, say goodbye.
Ecstatic, that's me. In love with that coho jack, with his brethren. Why would a fish throw itself repeatedly into a torrent of water, or onto a berm or into a wall or a rock until it no longer has the strength to try again? What makes you drive up and down the creek on a cold rainy day? Is it survival? Love? Beauty? Something in the pit of your stomach telling you that an ancient race lives among us; that right now they're in trouble? Right now, who would I be if I didn't do something, at least go out and cheer them upstream? "Please keep coming back, salmon. Don't die out on my watch."
I see the horse whisperer in his old yellow truck. I don't know him, but we know each other: we seekers of salmon. I stop, roll down my window. I tell him the story of the jack. He tells of another jack at the Inkwells, one who didn't make it. He believes the fifteen below Inkwells will wait for an easier day to leap up. Smiling at the thought of more fish coming up, I drive off to see the merganser I heard was at the lake. Whispers. Rumors. Who says there aren't people of the salmon anymore?
December 30, 2010:The Coho Experience (Plus an Update on Numbers!)
By Emi Bauman, SPAWN Americorps Intern, Watershed Stewards Project
Trying to spot the elusive coho salmon is like searching for shooting stars in a mildly light-polluted environment. You know they're there, and occasionally you will spot one just out of the corner of your eye. Sometimes, you might even see a huge one flash across the sky right in front of your eyes. It even comes with the same skill set: patiently focusing your eyes in one spot for at least twenty minutes until you see something.
I was lucky enough that my first coho sighting found me at a much more advantaged viewpoint: knee deep in the creek, wearing waders as I searched diligently for redds. This was the moment that everything began to make sense for me-- the redd, the beat up adult spawner, the action of spawning--it all became reality, more than what I had read and learned about. I trudged through the creek for quite some time, joined by my Americorps partner, Diana and Angie from the National Park Service, becoming more discouraged with each step that this might not be the day for my first adult coho sighting. Then came the first redd, which was clear as day but extraordinarily huge. No surprise this gargantuan redd was accompanied by a very large, white-tailed female--my first coho sighting. We watched as she worked on her redd, showing off her silvery-pink coloring.
There is a very specific joy that comes over you when you have a sighting, and I also equate that feeling to that of seeing a shooting star flash across the sky. You feel fortunate, excited, happy, and a little bit of relief that the patience paid off.
I find that people have a natural curiosity about salmonids. They lead a life of mystery to us; who knows how they find their way back to their natal stream? We do know that it's special and unique, and that their presence is a very important indicator of the health of our fresh water environment. I wanted to include a little update in this entry for all you fish enthusiasts, as well as those of you with that natural curiosity for our fishy neighbors. As of last week there have been 136 coho adults and 71 redds identified in surveys of Lagunitas and San Geronimo creeks, and some of their tributaries. I have been told that these numbers exceed those of the last two years, which is very encouraging but we all know the more the merrier!
December 11, 2010
By David Seltzer, SPAWN Creek Naturalist
Had a fine day at the creek. Right at the start of the tour with five adults plus new naturalist Bob, who should show up at the EEC but Sara Wright. She dropped by the EEC on her bike with news that she had just seen a big coho at Castro Pool. We formed car pools and went there right away. After a little searching we saw it about one hundred feet upstream from the main pool.
There was something special about this fish. First she was long, I would guess at least 22 inches, perhaps more. Even in that huge redd she seemed oversized. And she was, well, fat. The best word to describe her is "Rubinesque". She was broad in the beam, unscarred except for a white patch near the tail, and extremely healthy. When she actively cleaned the redd with her powerful tail she rose entirely out of the water. Between these virgorous events she relaxed as completely as an indolent teenager avoiding homework. She was awesome. I felt overjoyed, even giddy, and I have remained happy the rest of the day. It was a surprise to have an emotional reaction to a fish. This gal has charisma.
After we went to the Irving Campground where we saw two redds but no fish, we heard a report of three fish upstream from the bridge at Camp Taylor. This was fun, tracking down fish from reports in the field. But there were no fish to be found, no redd at all in that area. But there was no disappoint and the good news is that there are three fish headed upstream looking for their home range.
The best thing about today's tour was that we saw the fish right away. The stress and pressure to produce a fish for the participants was immediately gone. I was reminded of a scene in the Woody Allen movie, Annie Hall, where he kisses Diane Keaton right at the beginning of their first date to get over the tension. The folks on the tour were happy and social for the rest of the tour.
What a great tour!
December 8, 2010: My First Spawner Survey
By Diana Baetscher, SPAWN Americorps Intern, Watershed Stewards Project
Nervously, we took a step forward, certain that one false footfall would result in a face-full of frigid water. Shadowy tree stumps and submerged boulders, slick with algae hid beneath the murky water. But the turbid flow of Lagunitas Creek also promised the greatest prize of the day: Coho. Following a week rife with sightings along the creek, and even word that fish had jumped up the Inkwells and into San Geronimo Creek, we eagerly, albeit cautiously, plodded upstream.
Our sure-footed leader, Angie, from the National Park Service, alerted us to the "huge redd" from last week's spawner survey, just ahead. We bumbled along the left bank, working to find a vantage point, when suddenly, "Fish!" Angie murmured excitedly. We strained our eyes, craned our necks, and tried to create fins and tails from the dark leaves beneath the water's surface. In that split second, our Coho darted downstream and we were left to console ourselves by marveling at the enormous trench and mountain of rocks and fine sediment that comprised this redd.
As we debated how to begin measuring the nest, our fish reappeared in the midst of the rocky depression. She was long, streamlined, silvery and pink. Her white tail attested to the immense effort she expended in building her mammoth redd. We gazed with unbridled admiration and watched the ease with which she hovered mid-stream. Suddenly, she flipped on her side, a bright rosy flash, and pumped her tail: she was digging! Her tail suctioned the sand and let the current deposit it just downstream.
Ecstatic smiles painted across our faces, we backed off a bit, letting this fish continue tending her redd. "We'll measure it next time," Angie said, "Let's let this lady do her thing."
December 7, 2010: The Wild Connection
By Carrie Sendak, SPAWN Watershed Biologist
At the news of Coho redds and salmonids in Lagunitas Creek last week (14 adult Coho and 5 redds), my draw to get out on the trails overtook my ability to finish my office work and I was at Devil's Gulch within two hours of the report. Megan, being unable to resist the call either, met me there and we began our hike following the creek upstream on the North Creek Trail to Camp Taylor. Once we began hiking, I was quickly reminded how essential it is for me to take the time to connect with and explore this beautiful watershed up close and personal. I get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of work and life that it is easy to take for granted all that we have in our backyard (this is literal for some folks): the majestic Redwoods, fog and mist essential for life in the watershed, kingfishers swooping through the trees, salamanders curled up under logs, mushrooms popping out of the soils, and, of course, the mighty salmon in our waters. How lucky to have this and still be within an hour of the city!
In my career and free time, I have been lucky enough to live or visit (up close and personal) some of the most majestic and wild lands this great state has to offer: the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains, the Marble Mountains, the Trinity Alps, the Coastal Range of Humboldt and Del Norte counties, the Eastern and Southern Sierra Mountains, the Mojave Desert, and Death Valley. With these places, miles away from the nearest town or even village, you cannot help but be absorbed by the tranquility and wonder and beauty they so possess and freely exude. This feeling that these wild lands give to me, ignites my soul and warms my heart, and I have realized I am as much a part of those wild places as they are of me..."holy" connected. Or, as John Muir said: "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe."
Now, let us come back to West Marin. And yes, beauty is everywhere, and there are things here within the watershed that are just as breathtaking as standing 12000ft in the air looking into a treeless Sierra basin. One of those wild beauties is the salmon. This is a species that reminds us again and again how everything is "hitched" to everything else. And the Lagunitas watershed, yet perilously close to human's ever encroaching arm on wild places, remains to support the Coho salmon. So rejoice salmon lovers! The fish are back. At least 14 adults in the system and several made it up and over Inkwells yesterday! They return from the wildest of wild places, the depths of the ocean, to end and begin their cycle of life here in the watershed. And, although my extensive hiking of the creek this weekend did not end up in spotting an adult salmon (yet), I was still humbled by the all the other wild beauties that remain in this watershed. So, go connect yourselves to those wild beauties, you will feel better because of it.
November 30, 2010: Coho Sightings!
By Megan Isadore, SPAWN Creek Naturalist
Good news at last! A report of a coho carcass (probably male) came in today. Evidently the fish met an otter somewhere in San Geronimo Creek, and very little was left. While there are still no redds reported, we also hear tell of a jack (small male) sighted in Lagunitas Creek last week. This is good news....there are some salmon in the creek, and let us hope for more very soon!
November 18, 2010: The Charming Ensatina
By Megan Isadore, SPAWN Creek Naturalist
Carrie upturned a decomposing old log and showed us the lovely slender salamander and an ensatina crouching beneath, to a rounded chorus of "awwwwwwwes."
Batrachoseps attenuatus (the slender salamander) is only found in California and the most southern bit of Oregon! You can observe them on your creek walks by looking under logs, in moist places along the creek bank. Please don't pick them up; they're happy where they are! But by all means show them off.....they're an interesting little salamander with the tiniest nubby legs, which at first glance may seem like a silly way to get around. However, those miniscule appendages allow them to creep into earthworm burrows to forage for tiny mites and spiders and to find safe places to lay their eggs, as well as to estivate during the dry summer.
Female slender salamanders are even now seeking nesting sites to lay their individual eggs. They often use communal nests, in burrows of other creatures or under leaf and bark litter.
Positive ID: Look for a long narrow head, stubby little legs and a tail the length of the body or longer. They're very common in back yards, so you can tell your creek tours to look for them when they get home. Make sure you put logs back down carefully, NOT on top of the salamander, but beside it. The salamanders can wriggle their way back underneath.
Ensatina eschscholtzii is another ensatina species found in the area, and what a charmer! They have orange to yellow eyelids, and orange to yellowish bands at the base of their limbs. There are two subspecies: the yellow eyed and the oregon ensatina, which you can tell apart by yellow eyes! These common little forest creatures can live up to 15 years, and have a couple of interesting characteristics. First, they have no lungs, but respirate through their skin! Don't pick them up! When threatened, the ensatina raises itself on its front legs, and can exude a milky substance from the tip of its tail. This noxious substance repels potential predators and sticks to their mouths when they try to eat them!
November 18, 2010: Considering the Trees
By Megan Isadore, SPAWN Creek Naturalist
Last Saturday's creek tour made for a beautiful day out, despite the lack of spawners in the creek. New naturalists Lisa Thompson and Ora Hathaway joined me, Carrie, UC Berkeley professor Ignacio Chapela and some of his Environmental Biology students and a young fellow named Ben, who was a joy to have on the walk.
Because the spawners haven't arrived yet, we found much of non-salmonid interest to discuss, and I was struck as always by the importance of trees and decaying wood to everything in our watershed. We say that salmon grow on trees, and we discuss the importance of trees and riparian vegetation to the health and survival of the salmon, but even the most casual peek into the forest reveals many more organisms dependent upon trees, both living and dead, for their survival.
Ignacio, who is a mycologist, showed us the gorgeous Stereum species of golden to yellow, tan and brownish fungi growing profusely along the dead trees. Imagine my delight when he explained that the long rows and columns of single fungal bodies is actually all one fused organism, growing around the tree trunk, and thus taking its shape. There's something very compelling about that idea, since we're all shaped by our environment one way or another. Stereum is saprobic on the dead wood of hardwoods, meaning it survives by decaying, or decomposing dead or dying trees. It's sometimes parasitized by jelly fungi, such as witches' butter (Tremella mesenterica). Look for them in the woods!
October 31, 2010: First Fish!
By Candace Hale, SPAWN Creek Naturalist
Halloween on the creek, and not much was happening unless you count crazy beauty, amazing leaf reflections in the stream, chickadee calls and killer blue sky with puffy clouds. Sure there would be fish after Thursday's rain, I'd checked Leo Cronin, but it was Sunday quiet. On to the Hike and Bike pool, where I got lost watching tiny schools of tiny coho (?) darting about. No signs of spawners. At the Swimming Hole Pool, my last stop, I had moved from search mode to nature meditation.
I walked downstream a few pools, idly gazing at the alder, buckeye, bay and redwood layer cake rising before me. All of a sudden, I heard thrashing -- then saw a big silver sided Chinook right in the riffle.
I had forgotten how heart-thumping it is to see your first fish of the season.
I stood there a long time, but she didn't reappear. So she wasn't building a redd, but still engaged in her journey.
Welcome home; may your tribe multiply!
October 26, 2010: From the Creek
By Candace Hale, SPAWN Creek Naturalist
The 2010/2011 season is off to a great start. Only October 26, 2010, and already we've had more than five inches of rain. Rain swelling the sere land and filling the creeks. Rain washing away the dust of the dry time, refreshing a million shades of green. Rain bringing out scents so bright even human noses notice.
And rain, the ultimate communicator, calling down the line to the waiting coho, pulsing the estuaries with the particular, only-one- place-in-the-world scent of the natal stream.
So as soon as the glorious wet weekend cleared, off I went, hoping to meet the year's first coho coming home.
I peered into thick, murky soup of SPT's swimming hole pool. I gazed meditatively at the quieter, clearer waters of the hike and bike pool. I even (optimistically) checked out Leo Cronin, just in case some ambitious female had leapfrogged the holding stage and was already thrashing a redd into shape.
Alas, no sightings yet. I'm not convinced the fish aren't here --- a more patient or more perceptive viewer might have been rewarded --- but I saw no fin or tail.
Think I'm jumping the gun? Not according to the records. Though it might seem early, evidently it's not -- in 2004, we saw a posse of 50-60 coho in the hike and bike pool on October 17. In 2009, our first creek sighting was October 21. In 2005 and 2006, we saw salmon on October 29 and 30. And in 2008, otters were seen devouring "a big fish" (chinook?) in SPT on November 3.
Only 2007 was crazy late, with our first sightings delayed past mid- November by a rainless fall.
Luckily, it looks as though we've licked that problem this year. The weatherfolk say more rain Thursday. So I bet -- fish by the weekend! See you on the creek.
October 22, 2010: Creekwalks are coming!
By Diana, SPAWN AmeriCorps intern
In just two weeks, SPAWN's annual Creekwalks begin! With these early rains, the coho might already be poised by Tomales Bay, ready to swim upstream into the Lagunitas Watershed. Northern California, including the San Geronimo Valley, is expecting below average temperatures for November, December, and January, providing our returning coho with crisp, cold water. Despite the drizzly weekend ahead, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting average rainfall through the winter months.
This being my first year (in fact, my first month) as a SPAWN AmeriCorps intern, I'm excited for my first Creekwalk; for the opportunity to see these endangered salmon spawn in streams that mere months before might have been no more than a trickle or dry creek bed. The seasonal salmon runs are just the focal point of an incredible ecosystem of flora and fauna - the history of which our naturalist guides will be sure to describe. Few thoughts make me more eager to pull on my rain boots and head for the valley!